In the weeks before I became a father some two decades ago, my wife and I prepared the baby’s room, a task that seemed to promise a pleasing sense of boundaries. Those words, “baby’s room,” suggested that our newborn daughter would have her private corner of the world while I, in some fashion, would continue to have mine.
As another Father’s Day approaches, I’ve been thinking about the folly of that notion, which was quickly disproved when my daughter crossed the threshold.
When you have a child, I soon learned, every room is the child’s room. Reaching for the TV clicker in the depths of a sofa cushion, you instead retrieve a stray pacifier. Alphabet blocks mysteriously migrate to bookshelves meant to hold nothing more playful than “War and Peace” or “Remembrance of Things Past.” A lumpy, vibrating presence in your favorite chair brings the news that once again, you’ve planted your rump on Tickle Me Elmo.
Eventually, we moved to a bigger place and added a son to the mix. But the extra space we offered to the kids proved about as effective as the Munich Agreement in easing their territorial ambitions.
With the passage of years, I grew resigned to the reality that my life had been colonized by creatures much smaller than I was. It’s possible, I told myself, to endure the sharp pain in a dark hallway when the stiletto heel of a Barbie doll pierces the arch of your bare foot. The landmine of Lincoln logs littering the living room rug could not, I reckoned hopefully, be a permanently new normal. Taking a shower as Mr. Potato Head leered from the soap dish with a single, semi-detached eye is something I’d prefer not to relive, but I suppose it made me stronger.
As children get bigger, their possessions get bigger, too. Our daughter graduated from college last month and is moving to a new city in the fall to start her job. She’s with us in the meantime, and the stuff from her college place is with us, too. Our teenage son, who spends most of the year at a boarding school for gifted kids, is also back for the summer, the contents of his dormitory room scattered here and there.
His huge tennis shoes and other footwear loom like an armada in the den. Our daughter’s pots and pans are in the living room. There’s a minifridge by the window, a toolbox beside it. We will have, in this season of our lives, not just one dining room table but two.
My children’s possessions flow in and out of my days like a great coastal tide. I’m coming to understand that when a home welcomes a child, it’s never quite so empty again. Sons and daughters fill your house like they fill your heart — all the way up, forever, just as you secretly hoped that they would.